The history of Stainforth Stadium


The sport of hunting with greyhounds has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. Ancient texts and pictures on the walls of Egyptian tombs describe a link between the greyhound and man that still remains even to this day.

For a brief history of the greyhound see A Concise history of the Greyhound, and for a brief history of mechanised greyhound racing and the first tracks see A Concise History of Greyhound Racing


Stainforth has had a sports stadium, where motorcycles, greyhounds, whippets, and people have raced for over seventy years. The original stadium occupied an area between the Stainforth Democratic Club and Haggs Wood, and the first record I have of the site is from a clip taken from The Doncaster Chronicle of 29th November 1929. In one short paragraph, under the heading "STAINFORTH", we are informed of Stainforth's "dirt track", as follows:

"Dirt Track. The Labour Club have started work on a new dirt track behind the club's premises. The work is progressing well, and it is hoped the track will shortly be ready."


Three months later, in the edition dated February 28th 1930, this much longer article appeared:


Fast Speedway Being Made at Stainforth

The general opinion of experts who have seen the Doncaster dirt track which is being made at Stainforth is that it will be the fastest, or one of the fastest, in the country.
The track is certainly showing signs of living up to the forecast. Situated very conveniently in the centre of a cluster of villages and towns near Stainforth station, no effort is being spared to make the track an efficient one.
When the workmen started laying out the track it was simply one big stretch of marsh land. Now it has taken solid form and half the track is completed, "to the last cinder".
The track is half a mile round the inside, 40 feet wide on the straights, each of which are 50 yards long, and 60 feet wide at the bends, which make a perfect oval.
The straights may seem short, but those who know dirt track racing will agree that coming out of a 60 feet wide corner in the correct manner will probably make the straights 10 or 20 yards longer for the riders. In this way and because of the great width of the bends, the track will allow higher speeds.


Another important point lies in the actual surface of the track. Many tracks lose their speed, despite size, by having bumpy straights and loose foundations. The Doncaster track has a foundation of sand, then three inches of concrete, and a top layer of nine inches of cinders - a perfect combination from the rider's point of view, and making for thrilling speeds.
One of the most difficult tasks in making the has been the removal of a two yard high mound of great extent which would have spoiled the view across the track. This has been accomplished however, and the soil has been used to make part of the spectators' banking.
The opening date has been fixed for Easter Monday. The track will then be fitted with flood lighting for evening meetings, which it is proposed to hold every Tuesday and Saturday following the opening. A bevy of crack riders will be engaged for the opening meeting, and already many riders are inquiring for regular engagements at the track.
The track will be affiliated to the A.C.U. and the Dirt Track Racing Association, so that all riders will be free to ride at the track without fear of losing their competition licences.
There will be accommodation for thousands of spectators on banking which will allow a perfect view of the racing, and there will be good parking for cars nearby.


This makes exciting reading, and the people of the village must have been looking forward to seeing some top class entertainment from some of this sport's leading riders. How sad it must have been when the above item, so full of hope and promise, was followed just five months later by this article:


Stainforth Company Goes Into Liquidation.

The shareholders of the Stainforth Dirt Track (Doncaster) Limited, General House, Stainforth, have decided to go into liquidation. A meeting of shareholders was held at Doncaster on Saturday.
Mr. L. R. Upton, one of the directors, presided. He said that about a month ago the directors found that they were unable to carry on, and they called in then assistance of Mr. A. E. Smith, incorporated accountant of Doncaster. He would like to say that up to a fortnight ago Mr. Smith had no connection whatever with the company, and had only prepared the statement of affairs.
Mr. Smith said that the net loss arising from carrying on business from the 21st April, 1930, to date was £389 16s 3½d. The amounts written off were: Company formation expenses £42 15s 3d. ; amounts paid on hire purchase of ingravit loud speaking device £83 10s. Depreciation written off: Loose equipment, £26 8s 2d. ; dirt track barriers, etc., £1,258 2s 9½d. The total deficiency was £1,800 12s 11d. He had advised the company to liquidate.

The article goes on at some length, discussing the way in which the company was run and asking questions about the mismanagement and poor financial record keeping which led to the company's liquidation.

Looking at the development of speedway tracks around the country at that time it is hard to see why Stainforth Stadium should have gotten into difficulties so quickly.
Similar tracks were attracting crowds of 11,000 or more, for three meetings per week.
I can't find any records of the admission charges at Stainforth, but prices at other stadiums were around 2/- and 3/- (10p and 15p) for a place in a covered Grandstand and 1/- or 1/6 (5p and 7.5p) for standing outside on earth banks, such as those that were used at Stainforth..
However, as a whole the Speedway boom was somewhat short-lived when looked at nationally. At the time of the inauguration of Stainforth Stadium, more than sixty tracks had opened across the country. By the end of 1934 attendances had dropped drastically and most of these tracks had ceased operating.


In October 1933, Stainforth Stadium was acquired by the newly formed Stainforth Amateur Athletic Club. The club, with their headquarters based in the King George Hotel club room, had formed earlier the same year. Over fifty members enrolled when the club first opened, and at their first meeting they decided to form a cycling and harriers section.

After over one and a half years of preparation, the track opened for its first meeting in April of 1935, a meeting which was arranged solely for the juvenile members (under 14) of the club.

This is how the occasion was reported by the Doncaster Chronicle 25th April 1935:



The first sports meeting, in connection with the Stainforth Amateur Athletic Club, held at the Sports Stadium on Monday, was very successful. The stadium is ideally situated near to Haggs Wood, opposite the King George Hotel. The cycle and running tracks are now complete after nearly 18 months hard work, and are in splendid condition.
"It is a track second to none in England," was the opinion expressed by the Northern Cycle Champion, (Mr. Maurice Schofield, of Bradford), who was present at this meeting. The cycle track is 500 yards long and eight yards wide, with a camber of 22 inches and long sweeping turns.
The running track is of cinders, seven yards wide in the straight and eight yards on the bends. There is ample accommodation for a crowd of nearly 20,000 people inside, and parking accommodation for over 500 cars.


The following June, the club held it's first official meeting at the stadium. This is how it was reported in the Doncaster Chronicle, 27th June 1935:



The Stainforth Amateur Athletic Club put forward an excellent programme at the first meeting in the new stadium last Saturday, before an attendance estimated at 2,000.
The club took over the old dirt track about 18 months ago, and has constructed a cycle and running track. There were over 500 entries, and the programme lasted about four hours.
The mile N.C.U. Championship for South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire was won by H. F. Fletcher (Dinnington), who also captured the lap prize.
The club makes a strong point of fostering athletics among their own members, and the races provided specially for them produced excellent finishes.
There were many local officials, assisted by members of the N.C.A.A., and the N.C.U., to control the arrangements, with Mr. J. J. Slack as secretary.


The following few years must have been rather strange times for those living here in Stainforth. Many young men took the King's shilling and left to fight against Hitler's marauding army in Europe and Africa, or to face the perils of the sea and risk attack from U-boats, as they accompanied cargo vessels in an effort to provide some form of protection on the ocean. In the meantime, many men were still working in the mine, a necessary and vital part of the war effort.
It is in the midst of these troubled times that we next hear of Stainforth Stadium, when a small advert appeared in the Doncaster Gazette on Thursday March 20th 1941. It said simply:


Greyhound and Whippet

Every Saturday, at 5.30 p.m.
A few reliable Bookmakers wanted.


And that is the first recorded instance or acknowledgment of Stainforth's connection with greyhound racing that I have seen. The desire to witness the thrill and passion of this sport must have prompted the idea to start racing at the stadium, as the popularity of greyhound racing surged throughout the land over the next couple of decades. The sport became so popular during the 1930s that the names of some of the best dogs, such as "Mick The Miller" and "Wild Woolley", became household names all over the country. Such was the popularity of greyhound racing that stadiums were being built all over the British Isles, and crowds of several thousands would gather at each meeting to cheer on their favourite dog.

Most of these larger stadiums were members of the N.G.R.C. and B.G.R.B, the bodies which governed and regulated professional greyhound racing in the British Isles. Those tracks which remained outside the jurisdiction of such authorities were known as "flapping tracks". There are many flapping tracks still in existence today, though in far lesser numbers than when greyhound racing's popularity reached its post war zenith.

There are those who would argue that the flapping track is where the true sport of greyhound racing lays. It was at tracks such as these "grass roots" tracks where the popularity of dog racing began. As greyhound racing became commercialised, the influence of those who wished to regulate and control what became regarded as an industry took over. Many stadiums were built in areas within cities where they were likely to have a larger catchment area, thus providing greater revenue from higher gates. "A night at the dogs" became much more than just going to your local track and having a bet, as many of the newer and larger stadiums concentrated on making greyhound racing a more upmarket experience. Today's regulated tracks generate vast amounts of wealth, most of which is gobbled up by the leading bookmakers. There has been a constant war of words, between those who own and train greyhounds, who say the bookmakers should return some of their wealth into what may be a dying sport, and the bookmakers, who are hanging on tenaciously to everything they can extract from the industry.

Stainforth Stadium, like it's neighbour at Askern, remained outside of the regulating bodies, and continued as a flapping track until it closed in the late 1970s. Most of the dogs that run at flapping tracks are bred and trained by people who do so from their own homes, and often the dogs are housed in a shed or kennel in their owners' garden. Dogs that run on N.G.R.C. tracks have to be registered, tattooed, and have every marking recorded in order to check that they are indeed the dog they are claimed to be. Their trainers and kennel hands must also obtain a licence to be allowed to care for their charges. The dogs then have to run a certain number of trials in order qualify to run in a race. Failure to complete these trials means they won't be allowed to compete in any races.

Flapping tracks are different in the respect that a man can bring along a dog for just one trial, which is for the purpose of assessing the dog's capability, and then the dog will be allowed to run in any race thereafter. It's this lack of authoritarianism which makes racing at a flapping track so appealing to many greyhound owner/trainers.

1940s -1970s

After the introduction of dog racing to Stainforth, it would appear that the sport soon gained favour with the local populace. Within a year of that first advertisement appearing in the Doncaster Gazette another was printed for what must be the first Open Race meeting held in the village.

Doncaster Gazette 26th February 1941

------- STADIUM -------


All Open Races
All privately owned Greyhounds
Prize Money to All Races
Races of 300 yds. and 465 yds.

Racing Next Saturday
At 5.15 p.m.

Gents - 1/2       Ladies - 6d


After the end of the war, gambling became quite a popular pastime, and many local authorities looked at ways of using the revenue from betting as a way of reducing local rates, Stainforth included.
This item, concerning Stainforth Council and the greyhound track appeared in the Doncaster Gazette on 8th August 1945:


Another Tote plan for Stainforth

Following the news that Stainforth cannot have its own totalisator comes news of another tote waiting to be erected in the village.
Mr. B.Lovatt, owner of Stainforth greyhound track announces that it is intended to erect a tote on the greyhound track as soon as materials and fittings become available.
Plans had also been passed for grand stands and a new club room, but here again, shortage of materials was holding up the work.
When this tote is erected however, it will not meet the demands of Stainforth Council, who had hoped to set up their own permanent "bookie" and, by taking a percentage of the takings, reduce the rates in the village.


The sport of greyhound racing was firmly established in the village, and the proposed grandstand and club house was built at the stadium, despite the delays and shortages of materials.
There are many around Stainforth who remember going to watch greyhound racing in the 1940s and onwards, as well as other sporting events held at the stadium. On several occasion amateur boxing contests were held there, as well as the sport of "trotting", which was very popular in the post war years, but has lost favour since then.

The Doncaster Gazette of 26th April 1956 carried the following article:


Stainforth has another "trotting" meeting

Stainforth Stadium will stage its second harness-race meeting on Saturday night, with entries already accepted from London, Westmoreland, Blackpool and other parts of England.
Among the entrants is Miss Jean Forrest, 22 year old sister of Bradford speedway star Arthur Forrest.
Miss Forrest had her leg amputated after a stock car racing accident, but has now taken up an active interest in pony-trotting.

1960s - 1970s

My own memories of Stainforth track are from the early 1960s to the mid 1970s. In my mind's eye I can still see the track as it looked from behind the Democratic Club. It was surrounded by a high wooden fence, which was propped up at regular intervals by big strong wooden railway sleepers and other large timbers. Still visible on the outside of the fence, after what must have been almost thirty years, were letters written in high faded white capitals, which said, "SPEEDWAY". There were regular gaps in the fence, through which a child could easily slip through and access the "no mans land" between the running track and the fence. This area was made of a bank of earth, possibly a remnant from the bank of earth mentioned in the article about the track's inception as a speedway track, and which at this time was covered in dense brambles and nettles. It made the surrounding area popular for children who liked to go blackberry picking in the late summer months, though if you were spied by the owner, you had to make tracks and get out of there pretty sharpish!
The inside fence, which surrounded the grass surfaced running track, was made of four feet high boards of asbestos sheeting, or even the odd marble base from the nearby snooker hall. This fence was also riddled with holes, through which rabbits would hop and sit in the middle of the track, nibbling blithely at the short sweet grass. Years later, when I became more involved in events on the track, the rabbits would prove to be a regular diversion to normal racing, with dogs running in every direction, should a rabbit happen to hop out in the middle of a race!

The entrance to the stadium was situated about twenty yards from the edge of Tuby's Caravan site, and about the same distance from the lane running down to Haggs Wood, which at that time was separated from the railway by empty fields. The area between the stadium and Tuby's caravan site served as the car park, and was a cinder covered pot holed menace in foul weather. Two large gates, which were usually locked by a stout chain and padlock, stood at the entrance. A board giving details of opening hours and times of meetings was fastened to these gates. At the side of the main gates, a smaller gate gave access to the single turnstile, which was controlled with a pedal from within the attached office.
Once through the turnstile, there was a short expanse of cinder covered path, about thirty feet wide, that led up to a set of concrete steps. There were about five steps, at the top of which was a covered sloping stand, which faced the track. At the back of this stand, and at the top of the slope, was where there would be around half a dozen bookmakers with their assistants at each meeting. To the right of the sloping stand was a pair of green wooden doors that opened to the club. The club was licensed to sell alcohol, and sold beer from The Hull Brewery.

There was also a set of kennels for dogs permanently situated at the track, and these were along a path which was to your right as you came in through the turnstile. They were mainly small wooden sheds, in which the dogs were housed for most of the day. The dogs were walked two or three times a day, giving them time to empty and have a stretch. In the middle of these kennels was a large iron cauldron. All sorts of horrible animal waste products, such as sheep's heads and cows tails, were boiled up in that pot, and were then fed to the dogs who relished every wobbly morsel.
I remember helping with the feeding on some mornings, for which I was paid a few pence. The dogs' dishes were filled with "stew" from the cauldron, then two or three eggs, shells and all, were dropped into the middle of each dish, then topped off with lumps of bread that had been left over at the local bakery the day before. Of course, the dogs loved every bit, and it certainly did them the world of good, because as small as I was then, I must have looked like Ben Hur as I struggled around the track with two very fit greyhounds straining at their leashes.

To your left, as you entered through the turnstile, was a large expanse of grassy, nettle covered ground, where people walked their dogs prior to racing. At the far side of this area was what can loosely be described as an outside urinal. It was basically a brick wall which you stood behind to pee, with the outer fence behind you. There was no drain or anywhere for the urine to go into, so it got a bit smelly around there in the warmer weather. (And damn dangerous if you were to slip in there in the winter!)
In front of the wazzer wall was bath, which was always filled up with water from a tap which stood on the end of it's pipe and dripped constantly into the bath. This was where most dogs would get a drink after racing.

The paddock was situated further up on the left of the path as you entered though the turnstile, and just at the side of the concrete steps leading up to the covered stand.
It was basically a circle of grass with an oval path running around it. Along the edges of the paddock were low kennels with metal doors. Sometimes, the dogs were placed in these kennels before and after racing, it being the dog lad's job to take the dog from it's kennel, and place the racing coat and muzzle (which had being used for the dog of that number in the previous race) on the dog for the next race.

The dogs would then be all led out together, where they stood for a short appraisal by those in the stands and in the club. Then they would be taken around to the starting traps, into which they were placed through a door in the rear. The hare was actually a fertilizer bag fastened to a small trolley. This was pulled along on a rail running all around the centre of the track, by a steel rope held in place by steel pulley wheels. As the hare went past the traps, the fronts would go up and the dogs would exit the traps from the front and chase the hare. After they had run the circuit, the lads would then catch the dog they had brought out and return it to the paddock area. If they were lucky and their dog had won the race, the owner would often give the lad a small tip.

The owner of the track was Benjamin Lovatt, known to all who were aquainted with him simply as Benny. If you were a lowly dog lad, then you addressed him as Mr. Lovatt, because he could be quite gruff and didn't take kindly to impudence from his young employees. He was a large round man, with a round face, and on his top lip a rather bushy moustache, beneath which he worked on the butt of his ever present cigar. I always recall him as having little hair to speak of, though he must have been rather more folliculated in his earlier days. What little hair he did have was always covered with a trilby hat, which I recall had a narrow green band into which he had inserted a small pheasant feather. He often wore a tweed jacket, the front of which was pock-marked with pin-hole burns from his sputtering cigar. He always wore a clean white shirt beneath his jacket, the sleeves of which he often held up with black elastic garters. He almost always wore brown corduroy trousers, and on his feet he either wore boots or brown brogues.

Benny ran the stadium almost single handed. I say almost, because he had a son, Norman, who worked on the gate each night, and a wife and a daughter who worked in the attached club; but to all intents and purpose, it was Benny who controlled everything.
The races were run over two distances; 350 yards and 600 yards, though other distances were sometimes used, and all races were handicaps. This meant that Benny had to record every dog's performance and time in order to assess the handicaps for their next race. This was no mean feat, when you consider that for every race he drove the hare and was the time keeper and judge. There was no photo finish in order to give him a second look at the way the dogs crossed the line, or to check the times and distances between the dogs, so there were many occasions when an irate owner would disagree with him over the outcome of a particular race.

I recall one occasion when such an incident took place. The greyhound's owner was Kalep Arnold, (spelling?), owner of a scrap yard on Doncaster Road, just outside Stainforth.
He too was a largely built man, similar in stature to Benny Lovatt, and the memory of him angrily chasing Benny around the track is one that will be with me forever!
Besides formulating the handicapping, Benny would also create a race programme and print hundreds of copies, which would be given out as punters came in through the turnstile. Add to this the fact that he was solely responsible for the maintenance of the stadium, and you can understand how dedicated he must have been.

As I mentioned, it was Benny's son, Norman, who took the money at the gate. At this time, he would have been over 50 years old, and he was sometimes the target for leg pulling by the lads who were employed to take the dogs to the traps. He was much slimmer and slighter than his father, but had the same trade mark upper lip fungus. He suffered from a speech impediment, which would cause him to spit and splutter. This he did without ever removing his ever-present cigarette from his mouth, and so his sputterings were often accompanied by clouds of smoke and lots of ash.

A visitor to the Stainforth Forum told us about how he recalls roller skating on a purpose made rink which Norman had built between the ticket office and the kennels. Every Saturday morning Norman would allow children, for a small fee of course, to hire skates and use the rink.

For a while Norman kept heifers in the centre of the track, which was always a lush green expanse of grass. Before the start of each meeting, he would take up a stick and herd the heifers from the track to an area near the kennels. Quite often this operation didn't go as easily as it could have done, and poor old Norman would get an ear bashing from his dad. The constant grazing meant that grass in the middle of the track was kept short, but the unwary could find it a little slippy in places.

Another thing worth mentioning, which was an integral part of this wonderful track, was Mrs. Powell's snack bar. This was actually the body of a very old railway goods wagon which had had it's wheels removed in some bygone age. Mrs. Powell was old beyond belief, and looked very much like old Granny Clampett from the TV series, The Beverly Hillbillies. She brewed up like a hillbilly too.
The normal fare was mushy peas in an oval shaped pot, into which you spooned mint sauce and splashed liberally with salt and vinegar. There were also warm pies and sandwiches. Tea was brewed in a giant teapot, which sat stewing on a hob all evening.
There were a couple of tables with benches, where you'd sit and eat your peas and drink your tea. People would sit and smoke cigarettes and pipes, which filled the place up with a blue haze. This gave the cabin a certain aroma, of tobacco, mint and warm food, which is there in my memory, but the like of which I will probably never experience again.
I used to marvel at how Mrs. Powell could be seen throwing shovels of loose tea into the teapot prior to each meeting, and yet the tea was always free of floaters and dredges. Then, one night, I discovered her secret and never drank another cup of tea in there again. She had fashioned a ring of galvanised wire, which sat just inside the teapot, upon which was suspended the foot of a nylon stocking. It was into this improvised teabag that she shovelled the loose tea. The nylon was very brown and very dark, probably due to the tea stain; at least I hope that was the reason.

A meeting in those days would start at 7.30 p.m. and consisted of eight races. Meetings were usually held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
My favourite event held at the track in those days, was the Hull Brewery Handicap Trophy. This was a special day, usually held on a Spring Bank Holiday Monday, and in which there was a morning meeting consisting of six heats for places in the final, followed by an evening meeting in which the morning's heat winners competed for the Hull Brewery Trophy Final. If the owner of the winning dog had been drinking all day, the lad who took the dog to the traps was often rewarded with a very handsome tip!

(I was advised not to mention names for the following section, which covers the time between 1976 and 1991)
Some time around 1976 the track was sold to a new owner who had planned to upgrade the club and all the facilities. Unfortunately, the plans came to nothing and the track closed completely. In the early 1980s another owner announced plans to reopen the track. A new house was built on the site, and the old running track was wiped out and replaced with outlines for a new one. Once again, ambitious plans failed to amount to anything. The house was burned down and the site was left abandoned for several years.

It had seemed like Stainforth had seen it's last greyhound race and that the site was waiting to be redeveloped as a housing estate, when in March 1991 the following report appeared in The Star:


New greyhound stadium plan up and ready to run

A £1 MILLION plan to bring a Stainforth greyhound stadium back to life could be off and running later this week.
Doncaster council's planning committee will consider proposals by Thorne greyhound trainer and businessman Chick Hicken on Friday.
He wants to level the existing derelict track in Station Road and build a new one - including a sports complex.
The stadium has stood unused for almost 15 years and previous attempts to renovate it have come to nothing. But a recent revival in greyhound racing has prompted Mr. Hicken of Lands End Road, Thorne, and his partner to seek planning permission for a new track.
Inside the dog racing track will be a grass running track for athletics meetings and squash courts will be built in the proposed main stand.
Doncaster's planning director David Ellis will tell committee members on Friday: "It will improve facilities in Stainforth and the appearance of this currently unused site."
Mr. Hicken is currently negotiating with British Rail to buy land to improve access to the development.
"The council has decided that we need to buy some land from the railways to improve visibility for cars going in and out of the site. We dare not start work until British Rail says we can have the land. But as soon as they do we will," said Mr. Hicken.


Unfortunately there were many problems the new owners had to overcome, and acquiring the land needed for the access proved to be more difficult than they had first thought. Two years later, in March 1993 the track, costing over £1.5 Million, officially opened for business.

In an effort to raise the profile of the new stadium, experienced personnel were brought in to produce a top class programme of greyhound racing. A charismatic and well known figure was needed for General Manager, and Barbara Tompkins, a trainer of no less than three Greyhound Derby winners, and an accomplished author, was the perfect choice. *
Robert Lithgow, already a familiar name in the greyhound racing fraternity, was brought in as Racing Manager. These days he is the General Manager at Glasgow's Shawfield Stadium.

However, it wasn't plain sailing from the start. The stadium initially employed 50 people in full and part time jobs, but it soon became apparent that the company couldn't sustain that level of employment and the number of jobs was drastically cut.

After many trials and tribulations the stadium at last found itself on level ground, thanks to promoter June Hickman and the guidance of greyhound guru, Chick Hicken.
I came to know both June and Chick very well, when I worked at the stadium as assistant racing manager. I came in as a replacement for previous racing manager Andrew Walker, who with his partner, the stadium's other racing manager, William (Bill) Bentley, had managed to produce consistently great race cards, despite the decline in greyhound racing's popularity and the stadium experiencing some extremely difficult financial situations.



At the time of writing this article, the stadium is under a new management regime and is continuing to produce high quality greyhound racing. After a turbulent history, spanning seventy five years, the site of Stainforth's first sports stadium is still attracting crowds to watch top class sporting events..

* (All about the racing greyhound - Barbara Tompkins & Pam Heasman. Published by Michael Joseph ISBN: 0720717671 Oct 88)

Again, I must offer my thanks to Peter Dumville for supplying me with information from his own collection of newspaper articles and reports, and without whom the creation of this page would have been an impossible task.




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